Principles for a Modern Religion 1
IT WAS A DRY and warm evening; a necessary break from the three days of steady Montreal rain. On September 5, 1912, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave a talk at St. James Methodist Church, located on the north side of rue Sainte-Catherine and west of de Bleury. The church was called the “Westminster Abbey of Canada,” due to its Gothic Revival architecture and large, circular window of tracery. In contrast to its old-world design, an electric illumined sign outside the church read: “This evening the Prophet of the East will speak on the principles of the Bahá’í Faith and the salvation of the world of humanity.” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s talk would similarly address a convergence of the old and the new.
“So people are calling me a prophet,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said, when he saw the sign as he approached the church, and the meaning of it was translated for him. “Oh, would that they had omitted that word!” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s talk that night would clarify the matter: his father, Bahá’u’lláh, was the prophet. Bahá’u’lláh appointed his son to interpret and clarify his teachings after his passing.
On September 5, the Bishop in Montreal visited ’Abdu’l-Bahá to express his pleasure at the meetings being held and his gratitude for “the address concerning the purpose of the Manifestation of Christ and the other holy Manifestations.” ’Abdu’l-Bahá said, “’Tonight I shall speak in the Methodist Church. You may come if you wish.’”
Thursday, September 5, 1912 3
The Bishop of Montreal came to visit the Master to express his admiration and gratitude for the Master’s address concerning the purpose of the appearance of Christ and the other Manifestations. He was pleased to learn about other meetings and talks. The Master said to him, ‘Tonight I shall speak at the Methodist church. You may come if you wish.’
The editor of an illustrated Toronto magazine was announced. He happily recorded a detailed account of the history and teachings of the Cause. Another visitor was a Jewish rabbi who became very enthusiastic when he heard the Master’s explanations.
One of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s talks today was this:
“The degree to which these different denominations testify to the greatness of the Cause of God has never been seen in past history. Even socialists say that although so many philosophers have written books on economic questions, the Bahá’í Cause has the solution.”
When we arrived at the Methodist Church in the evening, we saw an electric illumined sign reading: ‘This evening the Prophet of the East will speak on the principles of the Bahá’í Faith and the salvation of the world of humanity.’ When the translation of this announcement was read to the Master, He said, ‘So, people are calling me a prophet. Oh, would that they had omitted that word!’ In order to correct this impression, in the course of His address He emphasized His devotion to Bahá’u’lláh.’Abdu’l-Bahá went to the vestry where a number of ministers came to greet Him with such reverence and humility that it was really something to be seen. He then went into the auditorium and took a seat on the platform. The minister welcomed Him by motioning the audience to rise, which they immediately did to show their respect. The minister then made an introductory speech about the world’s apathy to the commandments of the Gospel and the urgent need for laws of peace and harmony among the peoples of the West. Finally he urged the audience to listen carefully to the address and the new teachings given by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.
The Master stood before the audience and spoke about the continuity of the Divine Bounties, the power and majesty of the Kingdom of God and these wonderful teachings. The audience was awakened to the Faith to such a degree that a judge named Mr Riger, who had previously heard of the Master and had come for the first time this evening to hear Him speak, stood and said, ‘Some have imagined that the succession of the Prophets and the bounties of God were limited. But tonight we have heard with our own ears these divinely ordained teachings from an Eastern prophet who is the successor of the Prophets of God. We will never forget his message. There is no doubt that these teachings of universal peace, the oneness of humanity and the distribution of wealth are in complete accord with the principles of economic law, the equality of rights and the adoption of one universal language. These are the basic principles for the progress of the world of humanity.’ The minister then stood and said, ‘It is an error to think that the West has attained perfection and that the East has no bounties or teachings to offer to the West. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has said many things which we have not heard before or understood.
The Master then chanted a prayer and publicly thanked the judge. Later, in the vestry, the clergymen were so deferential in His presence, they could not find words to express their gratitude. Of particular note was the judge, who repeatedly expressed his desire to become a Bahá’í.
Talk at St. James Methodist Church, Montreal, Canada 4
From time immemorial the divine teachings have been successively revealed, and the bounties of the Holy Spirit have ever been emanating. All the teachings are one reality, for reality is single and does not admit multiplicity. Therefore, the divine Prophets are one, inasmuch as They reveal the one reality, the Word of God. Abraham announced teachings founded upon reality, Moses proclaimed reality, Christ established reality and Bahá’u’lláh was the Messenger and Herald of reality. But humanity, having forsaken the one essential and fundamental reality which underlies the religion of God, and holding blindly to imitations of ancestral forms and interpretations of belief, is separated and divided in the strife, contention and bigotry of various sects and religious factions. If all should be true to the original reality of the Prophet and His teaching, the peoples and nations of the world would become unified, and these differences which cause separation would be lost sight of. To accomplish this great and needful unity in reality, Bahá’u’lláh appeared in the Orient and renewed the foundations of the divine teachings. His revelation of the Word embodies completely the teachings of all the Prophets, expressed in principles and precepts applicable to the needs and conditions of the modern world, amplified and adapted to present-day questions and critical human problems. That is to say, the words of Bahá’u’lláh are the essences of the words of the Prophets of the past. They are the very spirit of the age and the cause of the unity and illumination of the East and the West. The followers of His teachings are in conformity with the precepts and commands of all the former heavenly Messengers. Differences and dissensions, which destroy the foundations of the world of humanity and are contrary to the will and good pleasure of God, disappear completely in the light of the revelation of Bahá’u’lláh; difficult problems are solved, unity and love are established. For the good pleasure of God is the effulgence of love and the establishment of unity and fellowship in the human world, whereas discord, contention, warfare and strife are satanic outcomes and contrary to the will of the Merciful. In order that human souls, minds and spirits may attain advancement, tranquillity and vision in broader horizons of unity and knowledge, Bahá’u’lláh proclaimed certain principles or teachings, some of which I will mention.
’Abdu’l-Bahá in America, 1912-2012: Calling America to It’s Spiritual Destiny
The Bishop of Montreal, a Jewish rabbi, and the editor of an illustrated Toronto magazine came to visit the Master
Celebrating the Centenary: The Master in America
Curated by Anne Perry
- Jones, Caitlin Shayda. “Principles for a Modern Religion.” 239 Days in America, 5 Sept. 2012, https://239days.com/2012/09/05/the-modern-purpose-of-religion/. ↩
- Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 136. ↩
- ’Abdu’l-Bahá, and Mirza Mahmud-i-Zarqani. Mahmúd’s Diary: The Diary of Mírzá Mahmúd-i-Zarqání Chronicling ’Abdu’l-Bahá’s Journey to America. Edited by Shirley Macias. Translated by Mohi Sobhani. Oxford: George Ronald, 1998. https://bahai-library.com/zarqani_mahmuds_diary&chapter=7#section165 ↩
- ʻAbduʼl-Bahá. The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ʻAbduʼl-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912. Edited by Howard MacNutt. 2nd ed. Wilmette, Ill: Baháʼí Publishing Trust, 1982, 313-314. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/22#588901888 ↩